I named the subject of this week’s post after a researcher/storyteller whom I admire very much. If you have not seen her TED Talk abut being vulnerable, take 20 minutes of your day to watch it.
Vulnerable: (adjective) susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm
When was the last time you were vulnerable? When was the last time you let yourself “be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen?” – Brene Brown
For me, that was this week.
I talk very openly about how I like my nighttime snacks. It’s one of the reasons that I love macro-counting, which allows me to build in treats each day so I never feel deprived. With 8 weeks until my show,
it was time to get really serious about my pattern of after dinner eating. Yes, I can still have a meal 6 whenever I want, but sometimes my meal 6 sometimes ends up a bit larger than I intended.
Sometimes it’s because I am hungry. I am definitely in a full-on calorie defect of about 300-500 calories a day, depending on my activity level that day. A few nights a week, I eat dinner and am hungry an hour later because my body immediately uses that food to refuel the training I just put it through. So sometimes, that night hunger is seriously LEGIT. But sometimes it is just a pattern. And when I discover a pattern in my life, I know well enough that there’s a reason for it – and that reason usually has to do with feelings, not ice cream.
After 35 years, I’ve lived enough life to know myself pretty well. I am well aware of the type of personality I was born with that allows me to easily fall into patterns, sometimes healthy, sometimes
unhealthy. When I was in high school, I was always looking for a way to fit into my social circle of smart, athletic girls who were popular and well-liked. I never really felt “a part of” during that vulnerable
time in my life. I never really felt good enough. It was during that time where my first (of many) patterns developed: disordered eating. It was a sad and dark period in my adolescence where I would not eat at all during the day and would binge and purge at night. The cycle allowed me to numb my feelings, so I didn’t have to feel them. I engaged in this behavior for about a year. Finally people were looking at me, and telling me how skinny I looked. I liked the attention, even if it was negative attention. It made me feel like I belonged. My behavior eventually became unmanageable. I withered down to about 110 pounds (I am 134 pounds today) and my parents gave me an ultimatum: get healthy or no college. I knew I wanted to go to college, so with some outside help I was able to arrest my disordered eating. When I went off to JMU that fall, I was able to leave that pattern in the past, but I picked up some others along the way. I had the disease of “more” because “more” was always better. In my twenties, I did a lot of work on myself, so for the most part all of my patterns and numbing are gone. Sometimes minor issues still crop up, but I know myself well enough to look at the feelings behind the behaviors to find out why.
This week I posted a sign on my fridge that reminds me of my goal, and I posted a picture of it on social media, to connect to others. I was
vulnerable. I try to be as real and transparent with others as possible. I work hard, and it is hard sometimes. It’s discipline and sacrifice, and sometimes I struggle. I am a real person just like you. I try. I fail. I try again. I always try again.
So when I posted that sign on social media, I did it without caring “what people would think.” I didn’t care if people saw me as weak. “Why can’t Mary get control of her eating and be PERFECT during prep.” I didn’t care at all if you judged me. Go for it. It’s none of my business what you think.
I posted this sign to help others. I never want anyone to think that I have it all figured out, because I don’t. I am far from perfect, and I use my imperfections to help me grow.
Here are some of the comments I received on Instagram:
“Same for me!! I’m good all day and then I’m trolling for dessert!”
“Clean eat all day…SUGAR CRAVE AT NIGHT! Stop the madness.”
“Lol. Me Right there. All me.”
“No comment because I sooooo agree.”
“I’m right there with ya! Between 8-10pm the struggle is real!”
The list goes on. I even had someone approach me this week to share with me some feelings she had about her nighttime eating which she
believes may be disordered. While my pattern should not be confused with “binge eating” which is a very real and serious eating disorder, it’s
still a pattern that I am uncomfortable with.
What feelings am I numbing?
*The pressure I put on myself to do well in my show.
*The pressure I put on myself to balance everything in my busy life.
*The pressure I put on myself to do it all, even though no one expects me to do it all.
All of my feelings are derived from my own thoughts.
Life is HARD sometimes, and as humans we look for ways to cope.
So, just for today, I am going to sit with my feelings and just feel them. I’m not going to look for comfort in an extra scoop of peanut
butter with chocolate chips. I am not going to allow my pattern to stand in the way of my goal.
I want to help others. It is always my goal to inspire and motivate. This week my goal is to share with you the real me so that you
can allow yourself to share the real you with someone you trust. Maybe there is a pattern in your life that you know keeps cropping up. A
pattern you tell yourself each morning that you’re not going to engage in, but by lunchtime you’re back at it. It’s OKAY. Allow yourself to
feel your feelings. They are just feelings, and they are fleeting. Allow yourself to be vulnerable today. You just may help someone else
in the process.
At 9 weeks out, all of the puzzle pieces are starting to come together for my fitness competition on November 19th.
I’ve made all of the muscle gains possible in the 12 weeks of training so far. I have about 2 weeks left of solid training in the gym to make any additional improvements possible in my legs, glutes and shoulders. That’s 14 weeks total of lifting for 6-7 hours a week (close to 100 hours of JUST lifting), 14 weeks of fueling my body in the best possible way with proper nutrient timing (making sure my body gets the correct ratio of carbs and proteins pre and post workout for maximum muscle growth) and 14 weeks of recording every lift, every weight, on an Excel spreadsheet for my coach. 14 weeks of true dedication to training. Check, check, check.
Now that the muscle growing phase is almost over and the bikini is ordered, it’s time to focus on a very important part of my show: posing. You can’t just get up on stage and hope for the best. You have to learn to walk and pose to make sure that you are showing off all of your assets in the best possible way. If you’ve ever seen photos of girls posing on social media, you might be thinking something like, “that doesn’t even look comfortable,” and you’re right. The more uncomfortable and the more twisting, the smaller your waist looks to the judges. In the bikini division, judges look for strong wide shoulders (check), a small waist (working on it) and large, round glutes (better today than 12 weeks ago).
Just how I hired a professional coach to train me for this show, I also hired a professional in Tina Peratino from to teach me to pose. Tina, a.k.a. “Mama T,” is the owner of Center Stage Figures and Physiques. She began competing at the age of 33, after her son was born, and continued to compete for seven years. During that time, she earned pro status in Figure, Bodybuilding and Fitbody (a version of Women’s Physique wearing heels). Shortly after winning her first pro title, Tina decided to retire from competing to pursue her passion for coaching and to focus more attention on her clients.
Tina has a very important role in the coaching world of fitness competitions: she helps women feel confident about themselves on stage. Many women put in so much hard work during their prep on diet and exercise, and they fall short on stage because of their inability to pose and show off all of those training hours.
I was immediately impressed when I first met Tina a few months ago because she, herself, was confident in her teaching ability. She knows what judges are looking for on stage. She knows all of the rules that each bodybuilding association has about everything from posing techniques to bathing suit styles. She knows the “look” that they want to see, and she does her best to teach her clients how to achieve that look. In a way, she is an image consultant.
I met with Tina this week to make sure that I understood the front and back poses that I would need to perfect over the next 9 weeks. I’ll be meeting with her regularly to make sure that every angle looks like I haven’t had any cheat meals over the past 22 weeks. Wink. Wink.
Just like everything that we do that is new, this posing will require a lot of practice. I have my own little theme song picked out when I pose at home: “This is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris and Rihanna. It always makes me smile. Gianna likes it too. She always dances when I play it. She doesn’t care if she looks funny. She doesn’t overthink it. She just moves. Now that I think about it, that little person just taught me another life lesson. Don’t overthink this whole goal. It’s supposed to be a “fun challenge.” At 9 weeks out, I still forget that sometimes when I am measuring out my 150g of white rice for my post workout taco bowl. Things just get more real each week, and I need to stop and remember that it’s okay to not take it so seriously sometimes. So this week, I’m going to continue to strike a pose and have fun while doing it.
I knew exactly what I wanted my wedding dress to look like. Lace, form-fitting, open-back, fancy belt. Tried on 2. 1 was $8000, 1 was $1200. Sold at $1200. Done and done.
I wasn’t one of those girls who had visions of how I wanted my wedding to be before I met my husband. I operated in a very real-time mindset when I was in my 30s. Maybe one day I would meet the love of my life and have a family, or maybe I wouldn’t. I learned early in life that nothing is guaranteed. That’s why I still talk in my spin classes about how we only have the PRESENT. One of my tag lines reminds my class that, “It’s 9:35am on Wednesday. This is ALL we have.” I try to remind them (and myself) to focus on the here and now and not on the grocery list or the after-class to-dos.
So when Justin proposed on a fall evening in October in 2011 in the rented-out second floor of Maria’s Restaurant in Annapolis (now the Iron Rooster, speaking of, I would love a pop tart right now), I was thrilled that I got to spend the rest of my life with my dream guy and plan a wedding.
I’m usually a very decisive person. I rarely ask opinions of people on anything because I am pretty confident in my ability to make good choices. At least I thought. Fast-forward to today, 12 weeks into training for my competition, and picking this bikini has been a true test of my decision making abilities. Even though I have tried to correct my friend Lindsey when she refers to my show as a “pageant,” what I wear when I step on stage in November, is judged just like my physical appearance and stage presence. In many ways, this is much MORE stressful than ever shopping for a wedding dress because my husband would have married me even if I were wearing a potato sack. YES the bikini MATTERS. I cannot even imagine how frustrated and disappointed I would be if my on-stage critique in November was “wrong suit choice.”
There are many factors that I’ve had to consider when narrowing down my suit choice:
- Where to purchase it from? Competition suits START at around $350 for a good quality suit. Like a wedding dress, I’m only wearing this once. Even if I do another show in the future, my reward for another long, grueling prep is a new fancy bikini. I researched a few vendors, but a referral and the power of a strong social media presence led me to Angel Competition Bikinis . They have a ton of options, a decent turnaround time (4 weeks), and my friend had a good experience with them. Sold.
- How exposed should I be? I like big butts and I cannot lie, but how much of my growing glutes should be showcased? The answer really came down to the organization that I would be competing in. I had to choose a show based on my husband’s work schedule. I was NOT going to train for 22 weeks and have him miss my show for work. There is no “calling in sick” in his profession, so I had to find a show on one of his two weekends off this fall. That show falls on November 19th run by the NGA (National Gym Association). The NGA is a bit more conservative than the NPC (National Physique Committee), so while you’ll still be seeing plenty of my glutes in the Brazilian cut, I’ll save that Pro bottom for when I’m not such a newbie
- What color? Probably the most difficult decision of all for me as been suit color. Red, pink, blue, green? I really had no idea. I don’t really WEAR any of those colors on a regular basis, and even when I am wearing them, I’m not wondering how they are looking against my hair or skin tone. I’ve asked a lot of opinions on this one. From friends, family, people I don’t even know that well. It is critically important that I pick a color that goes well with my hair, skin tone and tan (yes, we all know about the tan). This is a BIG decision. I finally settled on a color, but like the wedding dress, you’ll have to wait to see.
Finally, the details. Rhinestone crystals of every color of the rainbow. Top, middle and bottom connectors that are one strong, two strand, square shaped, rounded. Fancy embellished bottoms. The list goes on and on.
It was time to make a decision. Sitting here on Sunday night at less than 10 weeks out, I’ve made it. I picked a suit that I would feel sexy, comfortable and confident in. I picked a suit that would be worth all the skipped dinners out and passing on dessert and would set me back a few spin classes to pay for, but it’s okay. I want to wear this suit once and make myself and my husband proud. This competition is starting to get very real and very close, and I can’t wait to show it off in just a couple of months. Until then, it’s time for meal 6 (and I NEVER skip meal 6).
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word competition. So much so, that it has taken me two weeks to write this blog post.
Compete (verb): strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.
My husband is a football coach for the United States Naval Academy. He and his players tediously prepare for their game each week. They dissect film in dark rooms for hours upon hours. They study past games, past coaches, past meetings. They prepare strategies against each tendency. Then they study and practice some more until it’s gameday and time to perform. They know exactly who their opponent is, what they are capable of and if they have won or lost to them in the past. They are as prepared as they can possibly be for each game.
I’ve been thinking about the word competition when it comes to daily life. I saw the movie “Bad Moms” recently which highlighted the competition between women and moms to be the best, “establishing superiority over other who are trying to do the same.” There’s a “keeping up with the Joneses” competition in society to have the best cars, houses, STUFF. And as back to school approaches, we are reminded of the competition between parents to send their kids to the best schools, prepare them to excel in sports and to get into the best colleges.
Competition is pretty damn exhausting.
I posted a quote on social media last week that describes my feeling on competition: “If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better.”
I know I’m only 35, but I’ve lived enough life to know that I have absolutely no desire to compete in the society’s competition. I don’t care if you handmade all of your kids Halloween costumes while planning their flawless birthday party and create DIY Pinterest projects each week. That is awesome, but I suck at that stuff, and I am fine with it. I don’t care if you have the entire fall line of Tory Burch. I am happy with my stuff. Some of it is old. Some of it is new. I don’t wear 90% of it because I am in workout gear or pajamas for most of my life, and I am fine with that. I am happy with my level of parenting. I crush it in the kitchen (I know my strengths), but I can’t take my daughter to her weekly gym class and see every new thing that she does exactly when she does it, because I work and I have a full-time nanny. I am happy with my effort to do as much as I can in my family to be a supportive wife and mom. I don’t need to do more or be more or have more just because you do. I am so grateful that I have that peace of mind and my society competition meter is broken. I also know enough about myself to know that if that meter every gets “fixed” one day and I start to compete with you to have your stuff or to do more and to try to be perfect in everything that I do, that something is seriously wrong inside of me. I know, for me, that inner peace is an inside job, so if I start to compete with you, then something is not right on my inside.
In the dark hours of the past 11 weeks that I have been training for this competition, I’ve had to channel that inner peace when I’ve wanted to blow it all on some cake. I’ve had to stop and think WHY I started down this path 11 weeks ago. I WANTED this challenge. I chose it. My husband reminds me of that when I complain about my lack of cake. (He is currently singing a song in the kitchen as I am typing this: “Who likes hot dogs more than me? No one. No one.” I can’t make this shit up).
I have no opponents to study, no film to watch, no previous meetings to compare my performance to. It’s just me. When I step on stage on November 19th, I could be competing against 5 women or 50 women. I could be competing against newbies or stage veterans. I have no idea.
So as my father-in-law, a former dual-sport college coach, reminded me last week, “You just have to train like everyone else is training harder.”
Have you ever had to channel that inner motivation during some dark hours in your training? Maybe you’re trying to lose the last 5 pounds of your baby weight. Maybe you’re trying to lose 30 pounds that I have crept up on you slowly over the years after some stressful life changes. Maybe you want to maintain your weight but you really want to grow those beautiful muscles.
Whatever your goal is, I challenge you to compete against one person only: YOURSELF. Look in the mirror. That is your competition.
Say no to the comparing game on social media as you scroll through your IG news feed. Say no to feeling inferior to the PTA mom that “makes it all look easy.” Say no to the endless pressure that we all put on ourselves to do everything perfectly.
Just try to be better than the person YOU were yesterday. Wake up, and do the very best that you can each day. Some days that’s getting out the door without spilling coffee on your shirt. Some days that’s crushing your workout and your nutrition, and getting 8 hours of sleep. Just honor yourself. You are enough. Now go out there and crush it.